How States Can Improve Child Care Facilities & Physical Spaces Using Federal Relief Dollars

By Olivia Barrow, Lanette Dumas, Danielle Ewen, Angie Garling, Lauren Hogan, Christine Johnson-Staub, Cindy Larson, & Mary Beth Salomone Testa

With more than $50 billion in federal relief invested in the child care sector, along with additional resources for states and localities to respond to the pandemic, states have an unprecedented opportunity to create a more equitable, sustainable, comprehensive early care and education system. While investments in the workforce are the most important driver of child care quality and supply, facilities are a key element of creating a high-quality child care experience in centers and family child care homes. Children are best able to grow and thrive in a safe, healthy, and enriching environment, and educators are best able to care for and educate children in a safe space that supports their own health and well-being. However, thin operating margins and decades of public underfunding have left many child care providers with limited resources to devote to their facility infrastructure needs, a reality disproportionately and inequitably experienced by providers in communities of color. 

Since March 2020, Congress has enacted billions of dollars in urgent relief through the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). In addition to resources specific to the child care sector, Congress also provided states and localities with broader stimulus resources to invest in small businesses and capital projects. Many of these resources can be leveraged to strengthen the health, safety, and supply of child care facilities.

This policy brief, co-written with National Children’s Facilities Network, National Association for the Education of Young Children, EducationCounsel, and National Association for Family Child Care, outlines the need to invest federal dollars on facility infrastructure for child care providers. As a tool for states to leverage funding for child care facilities, this brief contains:

  • Opportunities to improve physical spaces through federal relief funding mechanisms provided by the CARES Act, CRRSA, and ARPA.
  • Strategies for states, territories and tribes to partner invest in child care centers and family child care facilities through a Community Development Financial Institution.
  • Tactics for states to support child care centers and family child care programs as small businesses and prioritize capital projects to benefit child care facilities.
  • Methods for increasing essential workers pay through grants.
  • Examples of how funding can be used to improve centers and family child care homes, such as: installing new HVAC systems, improving food prep and indoor play spaces, and purchasing outdoor play equipment.

To equitably meet the needs of children and families with low incomes—especially those in communities of color—we must ensure center- and home-based providers have the resources to create safe, high-quality spaces for children to learn and grow. And these new federal funds will allow them to do so without assuming additional economic burden. With more than $50 billion in child care relief enacted to stabilize the sector, states have an important opportunity to address critical physical space improvements and improve the health, safety and quality of our nation’s child care infrastructure.